Sometimes, I find explaining the gluten-free diet to people who have no concept of avoiding gluten actually reminds me of how far I’ve come. In a year and a half, I have gone from tearfulness in the FreeFrom aisle, to the proud owner of 9 – yes, 9! – types of flour.
Once you get off the “wheat flour” bandwagon, and search for alternatives, suddenly it seems everything can be made into a flour. This can be quite overwhelming, but I would definitely recommend the “buy it and try it” approach to working out which flours you prefer to work with. I found tapioca and quinoa flour in a small shop in the Malvern Hills, so it really pays to keep your eyes open and buy whenever you see a flour you haven’t seen before.
A bit much? Or just enough?
From left to right: Masa Harina (for making corn tortillas), Plain white flour blend, Gram (chickpea) flour, Buckwheat flour, Tapioca flour, Quinoa flour, Cornmeal, Ground almonds, Sorghum flour
Notable absentees: White rice flour, Brown rice flour, Sweet rice flour, Potato flour/starch
But why all these flours? Why not just use one type of flour?
There is no single “magic” flour which will replace wheat flour. For cakes and breads, which require large amounts of flour, doing a simple swap for one flour just won’t work. The reason wheat has been used and cultivated for generations is because it tastes good and is nice and doughy (aka full of gluten), so perfect for making breads. Gluten-free flours have different properties. For example, buckwheat flour has a distinct nutty taste, gram flour is quite dense, rice flour is quite light and bland and tapioca has some natural elasticity (it’s the main ingredient in Isabel’s pizza mix). There is no substitute for experimenting though, and when you do, have a feel and a smell of the flour as you put it in. Be sure to taste the batter too…
How do I know which flour to use?
Generally, the Dove’s farm plain white flour blend is excellent for many baked goods, and good for the beginner. In some recipes (e.g. my lemon-lime cupcakes), normal recipes can be done with a straight swap, others you may find you need to add some xanthan gum. Be brave and experiment. The worst that will happen is it won’t rise properly (I’ve made my fair share of “flat” bread), but treat it like a scientific investigation. The chances are it will still taste good, even if it’s not picture perfect. (Oh, and don’t panic and add loads of xanthan gum to pancake batter, you will end up with a non-Newtonian substance that is incredibly hard to make into pancakes!)